Author: Aren Bergstrom

Review: A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion tells the life story of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), the American poet who went all but ignored in her own lifetime, but who is now considered by many to be the greatest poet America ever produced. The film begins in her time in seminary and ends with her premature death, focusing on her life as a recluse and her often-contentious relationship with her family. The plot description of Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion makes it sound like a conventional biopic, but I hesitate to even use the word “biopic” to describe it. Certainly, it tells the...

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Ten great frames of Toronto on film

Toronto might be one of the great North American cities, but it’s hardly celebrated the way New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago is on film. It rarely plays itself, usually posing as New York City (Kick-Ass), Detroit (RoboCop), or some fictional metropolis like Midway City (Suicide Squad). As such, the Toronto that is presented on screen is unmemorable, a bland modern city of generic skyscrapers and universal hallmarks of any big city. Luckily, this isn’t always the case. In the hundreds of films filmed in Toronto, there are a few films that highlight Toronto’s appeal and character. At...

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Review: After the Storm

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) used to be a promising writer, but now he’s forced to moonlight as a private investigator to pay the bills. That is, if he did pay the bills. Instead, he whiles away his money at the racetrack, infuriating his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), who threatens to cancel his monthly visits with his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), if he continues to miss child-support payments. However, when Ryota gets cooped up with his mother (Kirin Kiki), son, and ex-wife during a typhoon, he sees a chance to reunite his family and prove to be the man he always...

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Review: The Salesman

After a construction accident renders their apartment unlivable, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) temporarily move to a new apartment owned by an acquaintance from their acting troupe. However, soon after they move, Rana is assaulted by an unknown man who arrives at the apartment believing he’s visiting the previous tenant. Rana spirals into traumatic depression while Emad investigates the assault so he can get revenge on the culprit. On the surface, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman is a revenge drama, but don’t be deceived by the plot description. The director of A Separation is not going to make...

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The TFS List: an alternative top 10 for 2016

At the end of each year, critics fill publications with lists of the best movies of the past year. They even list best scenes, best performances, and best feature debuts. While each of these lists purportedly shows how the critical community respects art over commerce and demonstrates stark differences with the year’s eventual Oscar nominees, there is often plenty of overlap between critics’ lists and awards show winners. Too much overlap. The truth is that narrative matters, even to critics. If you hear that a given actor gives the best performance of the year all day long, in advertisements...

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Chaos and compassion: the definitive films of 2016

The past year was a hard one to swallow. If we remove all the personal tragedies that we experience in private, our collective losses were still extreme. In the arts, we lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and many other great talents. The country of Syria descended further into hell. Refugees flooded the western world’s borders even as westerners became increasingly bothered by immigration. Donald Trump was elected president after the most depressing election in memory. The world economy continued to hurt the poor and the middle class even as corporations and real estate bankers raked in record...

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Review: Elle

Michèle LeBlanc (Isabelle Huppert) seems like the ideal powerful woman. She’s the pioneering head of a video game company. She lives in a big home and dictates everything in her life on her terms—who she sleeps with, what she eats, how much she wants to work, and who she wants to bestow kindness upon. However, one night a masked assailant rapes her in her home. This upsets her domestic equilibrium and sends her into a spiral of paranoia, revenge, and psychosexual perversion. Elle is as provocative as you’d expect from a Paul Verhoeven film. It starts with the image...

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